Cornerstone Fellowship Bible students start class with a prayer. The Far East-themed "Rickshaw Rally" drives home the goal of missionary work in Asia.

On vacation with Jesus

Scriptural teachings and summer fun
combine in the annual ritual
of Vacation Bible School

The bedtime story read at a Mililani church was about faraway places with strange-sounding names -- Bithynia, Macedonia, Samothrace, Philippi.

Isle churches get creative to captivate kids at summer programs

Vacation Bible School is a tradition in Protestant churches, and a creative theme is a hallmark of sessions that combine summer fun and Bible lessons.

» "Rickshaw Rally" material being used in Baptist churches here this summer focuses on Japan in crafts, music and games. The program is offered Monday through Friday at University Avenue Baptist Church, 2305 University Ave. Call 947-5008 for registration information.

» "Lava Lava Island" is the destination for youngsters at Christ Lutheran Church, 95-1361 Meheula Parkway, Mililani, where the summer experience will be on the five Sundays in August. There will be separate sessions of fun and learning from 9 to 10:15 a.m. for children age 4 through sixth grade, for teenagers and for adults. Call 623-9229 to register.

» "Peace Village" at St. Andrew's Cathedral, Queen Emma Square, will explore core values of understanding, tolerance and peace among a variety of faith traditions. The school, from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Aug. 9-13, will feature daily field trips. It is open to children ages 5 to 12, with teen and adult volunteers also being sought. Call 524-2822, ext. 220, for information.

The biblical account of the early travels of Christ's disciple Paul was the final lesson at the week-long Vacation Bible School at Cornerstone Fellowship in Mililani Mauka.

The idea that Jesus sent his followers out to take his teaching to all nations was the basic lesson meant to be carried home by the nearly 100 elementary school-age youngsters and 50 adults who attended the nightly classes at the Southern Baptist church.

A combination of Scriptural teaching and summer fun -- crafts, songs, games, food -- the "Rickshaw Rally" was true to the traditional youth-evangelization effort common to most Protestant denominations, the Vacation Bible School.

"The goal is to bring people who don't know him into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ," said the Rev. James Shiroma, pastor of the church, which has sponsored a vacation session for five of its seven years. "We want to have fun doing it. We want them to have so much fun that they want it to continue and they come back to the church."

The author of the letters to Corinthians, Ephesians, Galatians, Romans and Thessalonians, which are part of the New Testament, might not recognize the details, but Paul would certainly know the goal. » A bright-colored painting of a child riding a turtle toward an island topped by Mount Fujiyama decorates the sanctuary.

» Banners proclaim "Far Out, Far East, Running for the Son." The play on words combines the Japanese rising sun symbol with the identity of Jesus as the Son of God -- get it?

» "This is a race, that must take place, in our lives every day. We won't lose, if we choose, to run like Jesus says to." The "Rickshaw Rally" song, which youngsters and adult volunteers belted out at the opening of each evening session, will be perfected by the performance at tomorrow's Family Night.

» Each child went home Tuesday with a backpack ornament, handmade minisandals meant to reflect the traditional footgear in Japan, not to mention in first-century Judea. Their other creations included karate headbands and origami kimonos.

The multimedia package of lessons, songs and crafts produced by the Southern Baptist Convention's LifeWay Christian Resources was used this year in 15 Oahu Baptist churches.

The "Rickshaw Rally" package has been criticized on the mainland by some Asian Americans and Southern Baptists as promoting a demeaning stereotype of Asians.

Baptist congregations here include people of Asian ancestry, but none refused to use the curriculum materials, said Faith Masukawa McFatridge, of the Hawaii Pacific Baptist Convention administrative staff. She said local congregations have firsthand resources on Japanese culture and substituted it for some culturally insensitive features.

"We take it with a grain of salt, being part of a national organization, a Southern organization ... that is what their conception of Oriental is," said McFatridge. She attended mainland training and taught local Bible school leaders in sessions where the controversy was discussed.

"It is a good program. Everything is packaged, easy to use," she said. "The most important thing is to bring kids in and tell them about Jesus and about Christians."

An origami crane hovers over Pastor James Shiroma's adult class at the Cornerstone Fellowship in Mililani.

One area where no mainland company could possible teach islanders a lesson was in the kitchen. Church members went way beyond the universal suggestion of Goldfish cracker snacks. The Tuesday menu included hot teriyaki meatballs, rice and noodles, and "Fujiyama sundaes."

"Now with so many parents working, we provide a more substantial meal," said Amy Nakanishi. "Some may not have eaten before they came." The church set its Bible school in the evenings to accommodate working parents and year-round school schedules.

"A lot of people are here for the first time," said Nakanishi, the Sunday School director. "We pass out flyers in shopping centers, tell our friends and neighbors. VBS is the greatest tool we have to reach out in the community and share," she said. "This adds excitement to what we do all year. And we hope people will continue their interest and come to our Sunday Bible classes."

LifeWay provides a fact sheet that states that more than three million people were enrolled in Vacation Bible School in 2002, and about 28 percent of baptisms are the result of attending the schools.

Sharon Persons took on the job as director of the Bible school this year, just nine months after her family moved to Hawaii. She and her husband, Air Force Maj. Doug Persons, brought their four children, ages 2, 4, 6 and 8.

"The kids are so excited to come," she said as youngsters scattered to six age-specific classes. "A lot of children come to know Jesus Christ as their personal lord and savior.

From left, Samuel Laskoski, Matthew Pearsons, Debbie Folks, Bonnie Reeves and Tim Folks start the "Rickshaw Rally" session with a song.

"'Rickshaw Rally' has a missions-oriented outlook. It lets children know about another place in the world that they need to know about."

Persons added: "I am surprised at how many volunteers this takes. All the people who sign up to work are the ones who can least afford the time. The people with spouses on deployment were the first to sign up."

Shiroma said military families make up a quarter of the congregation, which numbers about 300 at a Sunday service. Some 25 members are now serving in Iraq or Afghanistan. An Armed Forces Ministry Team visits and helps families beyond the church membership.

Robin Webb sat in the adult Bible study class while her children, ages 3 and 5, were pursuing crafts, music and lessons in other rooms. She talks regularly by phone to her husband, who is with the Army in Afghanistan, but, she said, "I can't pass this on to him. They keep their religion under wraps over there." He carries a small Bible in desert camouflage, Webb said.

In the class, she said, "We talked about following Jesus even if we can't see him and applying what we believe in the workplace."

Cornerstone Fellowship Bible students Kelsea Reeves, top, and Toby Sison start class with a song during a "Rickshaw Rally" program.

When the adults discussed the Acts of the Apostles, following Paul in his first forays into the Gentile world, it made the "Rickshaw Rally" theme seem ironic.

"Paul felt called to go to Asia, but Scripture said God blocked him from going there," Shiroma said. "Then one night while in Troas, he had a vision of a man in Macedonia urging him to come. That led him to go to Europe.

"If we look at world history, God knew that the West would be more open to Christianity. Over the centuries, Christianity spread.

"Now it making its way back full circle to Asia. Now there is an openness to it in the East. It is God's timing."

Many of the 50-plus volunteers had Vacation Bible School experience dating back to small-kid days.

"Last night, I went home and couldn't sleep, it wound me up," said volunteer Susanne Orth, whose 7- and 8-year-olds were there. "The idea of missions is the exciting part for an adult."

Adults weren't the only seasoned attendees.

Amanda Oswell, 9, said she has been to Vacation Bible School in five states.

Kelsea Reeves, 12, said she has been to VBS eight times. "This one is interesting because we can see how other countries have faith in Jesus and how they worship him."

Nathan B. Carl, 11, said, "This is better than other ones I went to. The songs are new. There's a lot of food."

Cornerstone Fellowship Bible students play a biblical word game, substituting pingpong balls for Japanese pearls.

Cornerstone Fellowship Bible student Caleb Langlitz peers from behind his Japanese noh mask adapted for a Bible story about the 12 apostles.

Baptist missionary Susan Dezzani, right, speaks with Cornerstone Fellowship Bible students as a part of the "Rickshaw Rally" program, which promotes missionary work in Asia.

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